updated 2/22/2010 11:08:38 AM ET 2010-02-22T16:08:38

Guests: Lawrence O‘Donnell, Ezra Klein, Jonathan Turley, Dave Weigel, Eugene Robinson

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening, Keith.

           

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  What the hell‘s going on?

Thank you, Rachel.  Do we still have an open?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

T minus 32 and counting.  Breaking news: Arlen Specter signs on for the public option by reconciliation.  If there are enough of them, Majority Leader Harry Reid now says he “will work with the White House, the House, and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Health care has been knocking me around pretty good, been knocking Harry around pretty good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The new public option signals sent by the president with Ezra Klein; Senator Reid on the public option with Lawrence of O‘Donnell.

The party of no.  At CPAC, this is “Dr. No.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR ®, VIRGINIA:  We will say no to this health care bill because no is what the American people want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yay!  No health care reform.  No health care!  No health! 

Yay!

But two floor fights.  The speaker says the conservatives are not conservative enough and should not have admitted gay conservatives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘d like to condemn CPAC for bringing GoPride to this event.  The lesbians of Smith College protest better than you do.

(BOOS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the crowd also did not get enough red meat from Bob Barr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. REP. BOB BARR ®, GEORGIA:  Waterboarding is torture.  How would you like, you know, to be waterboarded?

(JEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And they still could get their chance.  Breaking news: off the hook.  In writing the torture‘s OK memos, Yoo, Bybee, Bradbury did not violate legal ethics rules, they just exercised poor judgment.  Jonathan Turley says, “You might as well rename this poor judgment at Nuremberg.”

And as little Tiger Woods as possible—except for one fascinating word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER:  I felt I was entitled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Entitled.  What does that mean?  With Gene Robinson.

All the breaking news on Specter and reconciliation and the torture memos—now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

On April 28th, 2009, Senator Arlen Specter suddenly switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.  The quickest explanation for the Democrats willingness to accept him, they‘ll need his vote for health care reform.  Tonight perhaps, prophesy fulfilled.

Breaking news: Specter has signed the public option by reconciliation letter.  Moreover, Senate Majority Leader Reid, to whom that letter is addressed, himself indicating that he would support such a reconciliation vote if and when a final decision is made to go down that path.

The Obama administration also having indicated that it would support reconciliation if and when the Senate does.

The majority leader giving his qualified support of the end of the day of campaigning for his Senate seat back in Nevada, including with president at a town hall meeting outside Las Vegas.  This afternoon, a spokesman for Senator Reid issuing statement in part, “If a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance health care, Senator Reid will work with the White House, the House, and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes.”

The latest public opinion numbers revealing that such a move could help Senator Reid win re-election with Nevada voters.  Only 34 percent support the current Senate bill, that‘s 32 percent of independent voters.  Fifty-six percent support a bill with the public option in it, 61 percent of independents.  Fifty-five percent, again, a clear majority, approving the use of reconciliation to pass health care and 64 percent of independents in Nevada feel that way.

Former Pennsylvania Republican Specter, meanwhile, his press secretary, telling us he has signed the letter tonight.  He would be the only one who have done so today.  Seven more are telling COUNTDOWN they support the public option without having actually signed the letter.  Some having indicated that reconciliation might be a viable step.  They are as you see: Bingaman, Cardin, Casey, Dorgan, Durbin, Menendez and Wyden.

Evan Bayh‘s office meanwhile telling us he has never said for or against the public option, but he has open mind that reconciliation is not his first preference, but he‘s open to it if that‘s the only way they can get health care passed.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius telling Rachel last night that if the Senate leadership moves forward on a public option, the Obama administration would certainly fight for it.  So, why momentum now on health care reform thought all before but dead let alone the public option?  Maybe the “party of no” having something to do with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANTOR:  These bills are ultimately designed to lead this country to a single-payer system, something that the American people reject.  We will say no to this health care bill because no is what the American people want and that is our principle opposition that they expect us to pronounce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s first call in Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post” and “Newsweek.”  He blogs on economic and domestic policy, including especially health care.

Ezra, good evening.

EZRA KLEIN, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Is Majority Leader Reid sending a signal to get the votes to 51 to pass this?  Is he—if that happens, he‘ll figure out whatever procedural way there would be necessary to make a vote possible?

KLEIN:  I don‘t think it‘s quite that determined.  I got to tell you, Keith, reporting on this is weird today because everybody‘s signing the letter that when you call them, every office I‘ve called is telling me privately, “We‘re terrified of this.  We don‘t know what to do with this.  We can‘t say no to the letter because we do support the public option, but reopening this at this point in the game.”

So, what you‘re seeing in all the statements from leadership, Reid and the White House, is that the other guys will take the hit and then they can get it to the finish line, and we‘ll sign.  So, the White House says, “Yes, if Reid does it, we‘ll totally support it.”  And Reid says, “If the White House will round up the votes, I‘m happy to do it.”  But now, they‘re not willing to take the first step on their own.

OLBERMANN:  So, this is, at this point, anyway, a microcosm of this whole story for the Democrats, nobody is leading?

KLEIN:  Exactly.  And I think it‘s actually getting a little bit scary.  I think you‘re actually seeing a failure of leadership at the White House right now.  The worse thing that can happen for them—they can do a strategy to get the public option, say, listen, it‘s popular.  We want to reenergize the base, or they can say it‘s too late in the game for this, we‘ll try it in another time, we‘ll go with the Senate bill.

But they need to give direction.  The worst thing that can happen is that it hangs out in this middle space with the zombie public option debate where liberals have to get disappointed again.  You have another fight between people feel the bill isn‘t good enough without it and it‘s good enough.  That‘s a terrible outcome and could threaten the rest of the whole enterprise.

OLBERMANN:  Well, and this underscores the total unreality of the assumption that the 48th, 49th, 50th, 51st signatories will be critical here.  It‘s obviously, its 20 to 40 that are critical because once you—the further you get towards 40, it then becomes hard for anybody to stop this from the Democratic side, correct?

KLEIN:  Right.  I think if you see 45, something like that, there‘s going to be too much pressure on the White House and Reid and you really see some potential whipping begin.  I mean, either—well, the one thing they can‘t do this time which they could do before is fall back on Ben Nelson and Lieberman to kill it in reconciliation.  You can‘t say that you can lose one Democratic vote, you actually can, you can lose a couple, you can lose up to eight right now.

So, if that happens, they actually—if they‘re close enough that they can get, it‘s going to be very hard for them to tell liberals, you know, we just didn‘t want to try.  But if you stick at 20, you‘re still 31 votes away.

OLBERMANN:  But—

KLEIN:  So, they have an excuse there.

OLBERMANN:  But go back to your original point here about this unspoken terror on or even spoken terror on the part of the staffers and these senatorial offices.  Can you narrow down what they‘re afraid of?  What they‘re terrified by?

KLEIN:  Yes.  I mean, the lesson they all took from Massachusetts was that: number one, we can‘t be seen making deals.  Number two: we need to be bipartisan.  Right or wrong, that‘s what they did.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

KLEIN:  And that‘s what the whole summit is about, right, about being partisan.  And the one thing you can‘t say about the public option is that putting it back in the bill and reconciliation.  This is not something incidentally something the Democrats were able to pass into the bill originally, is a bipartisan move.  So, you‘re going back to the most controversial of the debates, you‘re really delivering a left cross to the Republicans.

And you‘re going to have, there‘s an enormous media hubbub about Democrats, you know, using reconciliation, which is a process that should just be a natural 51-vote majority process but which they‘ve let Republicans define as something extraordinary to put in the most controversial, the most liberal part of the bill.  And they‘re very afraid of that and they‘ve not done the ground work on either reconciliation or, recently, the public option to defend against that.  They‘ve been caught totally surprised by this letter campaign and I think they‘re just sort of wondering if it will go away.

OLBERMANN:  So, these Senate offices don‘t have cable or the Internet?  They‘re not aware of the other aspect, the other lessons to be drawn from the Brown election that even the people who voted for Brown were in favor of a public option?

KLEIN:  I think that I‘ve often been surprised at the lessons Senate offices take from things, but the one thing that you do here, the one thing that some of them do realize is that the public option is the only way to keep liberals engaged.  That right now, you have a bill that nobody really likes that much, even if, you know, a lot of them think it‘s a good enough bill and that the one thing you can do to bring your base back before the midterm elections is the public option.  They just don‘t know if they can actually get it done, and the worse thing to do is to lose entirely.

So, they just don‘t really have a plan and that actually is where the White House needs to come in.  They certainly need to call the play.

OLBERMANN:  Twenty, 25 senators from here and it‘s unstoppable, even if you‘re not actually at 51 votes.  I think it‘s an important insight from Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post” that there is drag on that middle 20 to 25.

Thank you, Ezra.  Have a good weekend.

KLEIN:  And you.

OLBERMANN:  For more on the “party of no,” and I think that‘s the Republicans, but maybe it‘s the Democrats, let‘s welcome our own Lawrence O‘Donnell, Democratic Senate Finance Committee staff director doing‘93-‘94 health care debate, now a contributor to “The Huffington Post.”

Good evening.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll talk about the GOP opposition, but just assess what Ezra just said there.  Essentially, there is terror in the Senate offices of the Democrats who could gain themselves an energized base and re-election when it comes time to it for supporting something they‘ve all said they‘re in favor of to some degree.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, Ezra is hearing exactly what I‘m hearing from Democratic senators and that is their interpretation of the Massachusetts election, which is that bipartisan angle and going this way prevents.  And I have to just point out one thing that Harry Reid said in the body of his statement.  He said he would work, if—

OLBERMANN:  If—

O‘DONNELL:  He said—I really love this language—“if a decision is made,” is line one.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, in politics, that is the very clear, you know, “I‘m not going to do it.  Who‘s going to do it?”  But he said he would try to craft something that could survive the procedural hurdles.  Those are—he didn‘t use the phrase -- 60 votes—those are 60-vote hurdles.

I haven‘t talked to anyone who has ever been on the floor managing a reconciliation bill.  I‘ve done reconciliation bills in the Senate floor.  I‘ve done regular bills on the Senate floor.  I‘ve never seen a way you could get this bill through the reconciliation rules without 60-vote procedural votes.

You can do it on reconciliation.  But you‘ll hit 60-vote thresholds several times, including on whether you‘d be allowed to include the public option.  So, the public option in reconciliation on the Senate floor would still, in my view, take 60 votes to get past the parliamentary hurdle.

OLBERMANN:  So, you‘re talking, if you had a maxed-out of the Democrats who are supporting this, you‘re talking seven, eight Republicans who‘d be willing this come to a vote so they could vote it down.  This does not seem to me to be extraordinary likely.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  Remember, on reconciliation, it‘s only the final vote that takes 51 votes.  And those procedural votes that Reid was referring to in the middle of the statement, that is the real giant hurdle here that makes this very, very difficult.

OLBERMANN:  What the president‘s role in this?  Is there a means by

which if he came out and said on Monday, “No, I think this is a damn good

idea, let‘s go at it, we‘re fired up, we‘re ready to go, let‘s go.”  I mean

--

           

O‘DONNELL:  Well, then Reid would really have to go to work, but the president isn‘t going to say that because he has a bipartisan meeting scheduled for Thursday and the television cameras are ready to go and he‘s not going to say something on Monday that indicates a purely partisan approach to this.  I don‘t—I‘d be very surprised if he did.

OLBERMANN:  So, which makes the Democrats look dumber on this: going and passing a toothless health care reform bill with some bipartisan support in some sort of theory, because there aren‘t going to be votes for it still, it‘s not bipartisan, even though it was not done on a 51-49 reconciliation vote, or some sort of last stand, where they seem to at least have gathered the courage at the last moment to try to get this done the way the people who started this letter campaign showed some courage?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, this has always been a peculiar quick sand of health care legislation, going back for generations in the different times we‘d tried it.  Once you start to try to move a bill in a more conservative direction, in a more moderate direction, a water-down direction, which normally in the legislatively process, will pick you up votes, it will you pick you up moderate votes and it will get you across the finish line.  Once you start to do that, the bill in health care becomes extremely undesirable because it simply does not do the job and you end up passing something very ugly, very weak that doesn‘t really improve the situation for anyone out there.

The fascinating thing out in the polls, especially in the polls that are being run in Nevada, is this huge public support for the public option, for the strongest version of it.  And I was reading this poll today and I thought, you know, they‘re tricking them.  They‘re asking the real softball question.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  No?

O‘DONNELL:  They‘re not.  They‘re asking a very sharp, clear question.  Are you—do you favor or oppose offering everyone the choice of buying into a government-administered plan like Medicare, and in a state where 58 percent oppose the Democratic bills, 56 percent are in favor of that, the strongest version of the public option.  It starts to make the argument, how about just passing that?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  Like, how about that being your incremental bill?  Where you pass that first as a stand-alone and then start to fill in after that.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we can hope for that and I suppose over the weekend, hope for the magic growth of 32 sets, as they say, plus one in the White House.  Perhaps it won‘t happen over the weekend.

O‘DONNELL:  The Clinton health care bill had 35 cosponsors in the Senate and it died a bloody death.

OLBERMANN:  Lawrence O‘Donnell, veteran and survivor of that, and of MSNBC and “The Huffington Post” as well, I meant that in a double way—many thanks.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There is more breaking news tonight on another disturbing subject.  The Obama Justice Department‘s investigators were moving towards issuing professional misconduct charges against the Bush lawyers who wrote the memos rationalizing torture.  Today, the investigators were overruled by their boss.  The new net effect on Yoo, Bybee, Bradbury—nothing.  Jonathan Turley next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Breaking news out of the Justice Department tonight, as the only, likely legal punishment for anybody in the Bush administration for torture, the possible disbarring of the lawyers who wrote the torture memos is stopped its tracks.  Jonathan Turley on the details—next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For the torture and likely war crimes committed by the previous administration in our name, torture that has been proudly, repeatedly and recently trumpeted by former Vice President Cheney, the door may now have been definitively and completely shut by this administration.

Breaking news at this hour: The Justice Department has completed a two-year review of Bush administration lawyers who authorized interrogation techniques such as waterboarding and going against the finding of its own investigators, has concluded that the only thing they were guilty of was poor judgment.  The lower-level enabling functionaries who should have been just the beginning of the proper reckoning are now off the hook, like Bush era Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury, from the Justice Department led by Attorney General Eric Holder and a conclusion made by senior career official.

Those three showed poor judgment—that was a downgrade from the harsher finding that was made by DOJ investigators, that investigation having arrived to defining a professional misconduct.  Put some of this into perspective, the investigators finding a misconduct, if it had not been overruled today, may have amounted to a little more than disbarment for those three Bush era lawyers.  But today‘s finding says those lawyers did not even violate ethics rules.  The same three actually carved out so-called legal standards for the interrogation of high-value detainees, torture.  The DOJ report now says that these men, quote, “exercised poor judgment.”

Let‘s turn to constitutional law expert, George Washington University professor, Jonathan Turley.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So, this was just bad legal advice?

TURLEY:  Well, obviously, it wasn‘t.  They‘re saying it was.  I mean, bad judgment is when you make unfortunate choices in dinner guests.  It‘s not when you support a torture program.

And what we‘re seeing right now is the dismantling of precedent that we created at Nuremberg, when we said that you can‘t facilitate war crimes as lawyers and say that it was simply bad judgment.  Everyone who commits war crimes often thinks about their own accountability.  They often go to lawyers to facilitate them.  That‘s why they were so critical at Nuremberg.

And what we‘re seeing now is that we‘re just treating it like it was just a bad day.  And it‘s more than that.  But what we‘re losing in all of this is one of the core principles of Nuremberg.

OLBERMANN:  So, the next George Bush with the next Dick Cheney, with the next Don Rumsfeld and go down the list to the next Bybee and Yoo and David Addington, whoever that is next, whether it‘s 10 years from now, two years from now or 100 years from now, looks back on this and says, “Oh, all right, so, I‘ll be—somebody will later call me guilty of bad judgment and that will be it.”

TURLEY:  Keith, you said the exact problem and that is, if you can‘t be held accountable for facilitating war crimes, something that they don‘t really discuss in this report, then when can you be held accountable?  I mean, this is it.  I mean, this is the worst-case scenario.

And so, what the Justice Department has done is carved out for itself a standard that it can never fail.  That even supporting torture is just bad judgment.

In this report, it‘s astonishing what you read.  Bybee, who is a judge, who‘s sitting in judgment on others, right now is accused in this report of just leaving out critical cases, of leaving out weaknesses.  In one case, he said he just assumed Gonzalez would know about the limitations of this type of executive claim or the limitations on a good faith defense.  He just assumed he‘d know that.

And instead, they produced this report, which was a roaring endorsement of torture.  That‘s being treated as, in the report as, quote, “incomplete legal analysis.”  It‘s not incomplete.  It‘s willful blindness.  It is an attempt to defend a flawed legal theory to support a torture program.

OLBERMANN:  An error of commission is sanitized into an error of omission under those circumstances.

TURLEY:  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned what is not in this report.  It‘s 300 pages.  It includes emails among the Justice Department and the White House and CIA.  Is there anything in it that at least gets us to understanding what happened in the Bush administration that established torture as acceptable?

TURLEY:  Well, a lot of it will be particularly interesting to law professors and legal experts, in the extent to which people like Bybee who really comes off badly in this report left out critical pieces of precedent, where he was aware of Supreme Court cases that go the other way and he just leaves them out of the memo.  In one case, they rely on language in the United Nations Convention against Torture that was never ratified, and yet, they treat it as it were.

I mean, that‘s the degree of misrepresentation that is in this memo.

And yet, the Justice Department really doesn‘t deal with that and it does certainly not deal with what they‘re doing with the Nuremberg standards.  Instead, they just say that, you know, they‘re wrong, they‘re incomplete, they‘re showing bad judgment.  But that‘s not something that they should necessarily be punished for, even though people were tortured as a result of their advice.

OLBERMANN:  So, the—if you put this back into history and applied it directly to Nuremberg, the finding about the German judiciary system of the 1930s and ‘40s would have been what?

TURLEY:  Well, they could use this—if this report existed back in Nuremberg, it would have resulted in acquittals for all the people that we sentenced.  But this is a bloody nightmare for civil libertarians.  We have an ex-vice president who‘s proudly proclaiming how he supported torture.  We have a current president who is preventing any serious investigation of torture.

If torture is so bad, imagine what it‘s like to try to protect alleged torturers, war criminals.  And that‘s the really dark period we‘re finding where we‘re all wondering where did our principles go.

OLBERMANN:  And the news comes out on Friday night.

Jonathan Turley of George Washington University—great work on this subject.  I hope we‘re not done with it.  Thank you, Jon.

TURLEY:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, the former conservative congressman from Georgia, Bob Barr, went to the conservative CPAC convention and told the conservative crowd that enhanced interrogation was torture.  They booed.  On the other hand, what a young conservative condemns CPAC for including gay groups.  He was booed.

The party of boo—ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When Little Jimmy Olson O‘Keefe gets upstaged at CPAC by a kid more conservative and more stupid than he is, that‘s news.

First, a little break tonight.  On this date in 1930 was born John Frankenheim, or the man who directed the best Cold War political movie of all-time, maybe the best political movie of all time, “The Manchurian Candidate,” to say nothing of “Seven Days in May” and as if ripped from tonight‘s headlines “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

(MUSIC)

OLBERMANN:  Now, from New England‘s news center, I got a flash back to 25 years ago.  This the classic Filene‘s Basement bridal dress sale.  For three hours, gowns are marked down as much as 90 percent off the original.  These classy ladies practice for their walk down the aisle with the mad dash for the sway.  Usual price for one of these gowns up to 9 grand.  Picking up during the running of the brides, less than $240.  The value of your poise and dignity, priceless.

Tokyo, hello!  We‘re here at the Fujimaka Gekijgo Restaurant where chef and owner Shoichi Fujimaka—it‘s Fujimaki, sorry—is preparing his latest dish, a confection he calls five tested blended imperial noodles.  That‘s the classic Japanese noodles soup known as ramen.  And most menus, this fine dish can be had for about $10, but Fujimaka, or rather Fujimaki, considered pricing it as high as $33 because it‘s so well-made before ultimately deciding to charge -- $100!  For a bowl of ramen noodle soup?

Oh wait, here we go.  Fujimaki explains, “It‘s not really ramen, this is my cuisine.  It‘s my 25 years of experience distilled into one bowl.”  Twenty-five years of experience distilled into a bowl?  Aaaah!

Hey, they can actually do something other than say no at the conservatives conference.  They can boo each other.  A young homophobic Republican and Bob Barr get raspberries from the crowd.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Usually in our production day, our segment producers send me research mid afternoon, compiling what we know about any particular story.  But when the Conservative Political Action Conference meets, the crazy comes way too fast and too quickly for such niceties.  We‘re tracking it as best we can, but you have to bear with us. 

The weirdest thing is flashes of sanity.  But first the crazy.  Where better to start than with James O‘Keefe, the criminal defendant accused by the FBI of trying to tamper with government phones.  He is naturally a hero at CPAC, because we know how much conservatives hate the federal government and the FBI, and how much they like to stick it to the man. 

O‘Keefe accepting an award there, allowed to attend—I kid you not -

with permission from his parole officer, according to “Politico.”  Trust the law and order party to check in with its parole officers. 

Then there was Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, the presidential hopeful, ridiculing the current president for an appearance, quote, “in a grade school classroom speaking to elementary schoolchildren and he was using a teleprompter.  That‘s not a joke.  That‘s a real story.” 

Actually, that‘s a lie, governor.  When Mr. Obama spoke to the kids last month, he spoke without a script.  The teleprompter was for a speech to the nation delivered on television from a classroom later that day. 

Pawlenty‘s story came from—surprise—from the inter-tubes.  He was speaking, aides told the AP, from bullet points written in his notebook.  Better than his hand, I suppose. 

Pawlenty also criticized the decision to Mirandize the accused Christmas Day would-be bomber, apparently unaware that former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a CPAC honoree, was today defending the decision to Mirandize the would be Christmas day bomber.  As was former Congressman Bob Barr, who even dared to suggest that torture is torture. 

Watch how CPAC reacts to this shot of sanity. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB BARR, FORMER CONGRESSMAN:  I‘m a guy of a lot more faith in our US attorneys who are non-political than my colleagues on the other side of this debate do.  We can try them.  We should try them.  That is precisely, Jay, what our law provides for.  And the first time we‘re faced with a situation, we say, oh, we want to have them go to the military and let them torture them for a while.  It‘s not enhanced interrogation techniques.  Water-boarding is torture. 

(CROSS TALK)  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But all do props to the CPAC audience, where anti-gay

activist Ryan Sorba—his book title escapes me at the moment, sorry, Ryan

attacked a gay conservative group. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN SORBA, ANTI-GAY ACTIVIST:  Just to change the subject for a second, I‘d like to condemn CPAC for bringing GoPride to this event.  Bring it.  I love it.  I love it.  I love it. 

Guess what?  Guess what?  All right.  Guess what?  Civil rights are grounded in natural rights.  Natural rights are grounded in human nature.  Human nature is a rational substance in a relationship.  The intelligible end of the reproductive act is reproduction. 

Do you understand that?  Civil rights when they conflict with natural rights are contrary—you sit down.  The lesbians at Smith College protest better than you do.  The lesbians at Smith College protest better than you do. 

All right?  Bring it.  Yeah, Yao (ph) is my enemy.  Jeff Frazy (ph), guess what, you just made an enemy out of me, buddy.  Yeah, you.  Yeah, you, Frazy, you made an enemy out of me.  Thanks a lot. 

(BOOING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Smith College?  The guy wouldn‘t last three minutes at Smith Cloth.  He wouldn‘t even find his shirt.  Joining us now, fresh from a day surviving CPAC is Dave Weigel, reporter for “The Washington Independent.”  Good evening, Dave.  Welcome back.

DAVE WEIGEL, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Thanks for having me.  Wish you were here. 

OLBERMANN:  Great.  Crazy seems not just to be in the extremes, but in the divisions of the extremes.  We‘ll start with the law and order party honoring the guy who needs to get his parole officer‘s permission to attend. 

WEIGEL:  Well, there‘s an old conservative saying—some people have started it.  Some people have ripped it off—that they didn‘t like Nixon until Watergate.  There‘s certainly an element of if you survive a battering from the establishment, then that makes you a better conservative.  In James O‘Keefe‘s defense, he‘s in the same position legally that a lot of people are when they have done something and the lawyers are waiting for a trial.  So he‘s—he was, actually, joined by another guy who participated in the Louisiana sting, Joe Bazell (ph). 

They were both there.  They both are sworn by fans.  I would add, actually, J.D. Hayworth, the former congressman, was an even bigger—well, a big star at CPAC too.  The last we heard of him, he was losing his Congressional reelection in part because he took 150,000 dollars from tribes linked to Jack Abramoff.  So surviving the machine, it‘s not really something you‘re ashamed of.  It‘s a badge of honor. 

OLBERMANN:  And yet, this seems to conflict—have they cleared the audience out and brought in a new one?  A guy goes to a conservative conference to bash gays, and gets booed off the stage.  What happened there? 

WEIGEL:  I think that was legitimate anger at this guy going rogue and bashing gays.  GoProud—he  got it wrong.  I got it wrong—is a newish gay Republican group, and they won a bit of a tussle with Liberty—with Liberty University law school.  Liberty said they wouldn‘t come if GoProud came.  GoProud came.  And they‘ve been actually pretty well accepted. 

I think one thing you‘ve seen with conservatives all year is they don‘t quite have time anymore for these disputes between the social side and the libertarian social side.  Now, they‘ll vote for anti-gay marriage referendums.  But right now, all they care about is defeating Barack Obama and defeating socialism.  There‘s no room for this.  That was legitimate anger.

The guy that he called out there, Jeff Frazy, works for Ron Paul‘s organization, and said nothing.  This guy was just a jack-ass, basically.

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, well, you couldn‘t have told that as he came up to the stage chewing his gum on his way to the speech.  Yeah, I‘m here to speak at CPAC.  Bob Barr and John Ashcroft fit into the formula of conservative heroes, at least of the recent past.  Both supporting Miranda rights.  So why do they still get honored by people who think getting Mirandized is equivalent to killing Americans. 

WEIGEL:  This is actually a debate that happens at CPAC every year.  This isn‘t new.  Bob Barr has done this—and Viet Dinh, who was on the panel, have done this at multiple events.  They have a sort of Roman circus event, where they debate these issues, and then they go home and the neo-conservatives and the supporters of military tribunals win. 

The biggest applause lines at CPAC this year are Massachusetts, which is kind of a surprise, and military tribunals, which I wish was a surprise, but is just actually something that all conservatives—that most conservative activists, apart from this libertarian segment, are thrilled by.  So that room was actually—I think it was over-represented how many people agreed with Bob Barr‘s position.  It was a mix of boos and cheers.  That‘s not something you heard at a lot of these things.  Even Ashcroft, if pressed, I‘m not sure if he would defend Obama as much as he did in that one interview.  

OLBERMANN:  It used to be conservatives frowned upon fraternizing with accused criminals, rather than to give them awards.  It used to be they believed in limited government power, rather than the unchecked ability to kidnap people and hang them upside down.  A point you made there, does CPAC even know what it is politically anymore?  Or does it no longer care, as long as it is victorious? 

WEIGEL:  Well, this is the most celebrating CPAC I‘ve been to in a few years, and most speakers said they have been to in a long time, because it represents the Tea Party movement coming in and not really taking over, but being welcomed back into the conservative movement.  So it was a—it is a huge cultural celebration.  Policy, things like that, don‘t have much to do with it.  They‘re basically going to agree with Viet Dinh‘s and not—with the Bush version of conservatism, at the end of the day. 

OLBERMANN:  Dave Weigel of “The Washington Independent,” great thanks, and good luck out there. 

WEIGEL:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  From the halls of the CPAC conference to COUNTDOWN‘s Hypocrisy Hall of Shame, stimulus wing.  And from the most recent set of nominees, you have voted in a winner, a politician who called the Recovery Act a, quote, “wasteful spending spree that misses the mark on all counts.”   But in trying to help a group in his district get stimulus money, he wrote quote, “intends to place 1,000 workers in green jobs.” 

Congressman Paul “the shadow budget nose” Ryan of Wisconsin, with 68 percent of the vote, COUNTDOWN‘s latest inductee into the Hypocrisy Hall of Shame. 

The nightly comments stay at CPAC, stays with Governor Pawlenty, because he did even more than just lie about the president and a prompter.  He tried to go all topical by talking about Tiger Woods.  Well, about Mrs.

Tiger Woods.  Well, about Mrs. Tiger Woods‘ nine iron. 

We‘ll talk about Woods‘ use of the word entitled with Gene Robinson. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, more on the breaking news, Specter signs on to the public option by reconciliation letter.  Harry Reid confirms, if there are 51 votes, he‘ll make it happen.  Matt Iglesias of Think Progress joins Rachel in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back to CPAC, CPAC, CPAC.  We‘re going back to CPAC.  Man, I don‘t think so.  And discussing the essence of the Tiger Woods apology, “I felt entitled,” with Gene Robinson.  What does entitlement really mean? 

Of course, there‘s no way these two stories could ever overlap, could they?  You would be surprised in tonight‘s nightly comment. 

Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota had, by and large, been considered, even by his political opponents, as an innocuous, even reasonable guy until this morning.  Not sure why Pawlenty was at CPAC, though I suppose losing out to Sarah Palin for the vice presidential nomination would make anybody rethink things.  You know, the way Paul McCartney and the Grateful Dead each recorded Disco in the late ‘70s.

But clearly, Governor Pawlenty did not bring his perspective with him.  Just because it‘s happening today does not mean you have to mention it in your speech.  It was an hour before the Tiger Woods news conference when Pawlenty said—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA:  I think we can learn a lot from that situation.  Not from Tiger, but from his wife.  So, she said, I‘ve had enough.  She said, no more.  I think we should take a page out of her playbook and take a nine iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.  We‘ve had enough. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No.  No, no.  Nope, take a nine iron and smash a window out of big government is probably a little too weird, even for CPAC.  But it‘s just memorable enough to stick to a would be presidential nominee.  Oh yes, Pawlenty, he‘s the guy who had something to do with Tiger Woods, right? 

I suppose this means now we‘re going to get Pawlenty making a statement in front of his friends and family.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You may have felt sorry for him.  You may have dismissed him as a fraud.  But clearly at some point during the Tiger Woods address, you heard him blame his sense of entitlement.  What does that mean really? 

That‘s ahead.  First, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to, well, either Bill-O Or Limbaugh.  I just don‘t know. 

Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Let‘s pretend that you‘re talking to Bill O‘Reilly.  I‘ll be Bill O‘Reilly. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK. 

LIMBAUGH:  What do you think of me?  Where have I gone wrong today?  No, I am Bill O‘Reilly.  What do you think of me?  Tell me where I‘ve gone wrong today. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, he does say that a lot.

LIMBAUGH:  Look at—all I‘m telling you is that we‘ve got to give socialism a fair shake for the folks.  I‘m not going to condemn it like these really right wingers are.  We have to give socialism a fair shake.  We hear at “The Factor” are going to give socialism, even communism a fair shake.  We‘ll do an in-depth investigation and we‘ll report back, because we‘re not knee jerking.  We‘re looking out for you, the folks. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m utterly conflicted.  Ketchup, catsup.  Ketchup, catsup. 

The runner-up tonight, an unidentified homeowner in Buchevill (ph), Kentucky, near Louisville.  An unusually severe winter has left a lot of ice on homes  there.  This guy decided to remove the icicles on his with his blow torch.  I wonder what happened next. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sky 11 captured the flames live during our 5:30 newscast yesterday evening. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  OK, this gets worse.  The homeowner is a plumber.  And the blow torch he used was the one he usually uses to thaw out frozen pipes.  And he‘s the brother of the fire chief in Worthington, Kentucky. 

But our co-winners, Jed Babbin, editor of the freak website Human Events, and Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.  They both forgot the wise words of Crusty the Clown.  What, too soon? 

Babbin was introducing Mr. Happy, Grover Norquist, at the CPAC Convention, and he said this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JED BABBIN, HUMAN EVENTS:  Let me just say, I‘m really happy to see Grover today.  He was getting a little testy in the past couple of week.  And I was just really, really glad that it was not him identified as flying that airplane into the IRS building. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What a cut-up.  The former US under-secretary of defense, everybody.  12 Injured, two dead.  Yes, that‘s funny.  As to Senator Brown, the question rambled through the pilots confused manifesto and then it ended with a relatively simple, your reaction to that, senator? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SCOTT BROWN ®, MASSACHUSETTS:  It‘s certainly tragic and I feel for the families, obviously, being affected by it.  And I don‘t know if it‘s related, but I can just sense, not only in my election, but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated.  They want transparency.  They want their elected officials to be accountable and open, and talk about the things that are affecting their daily lives. 

I‘m not sure if there‘s a connection.  I certainly hope not, but we need to do things better. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If you want to equate your own election with a psychopath who turned his own issues with the IRS into a terrorist attack that killed an innocent bystander, go ahead.  The Fox interviewer gave the senator another chance to steer out of the everything is about me skid.  Instead, Mr. Brown added, “nobody likes paying taxes certainly.”  Senator Scott “we‘re going to have a lot of fun with you, aren‘t we” Brown, and Jed Babbin, today‘s worst persons in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Eighty four days after driving his SUV into a tree outside his Florida home, and during a break from a tournament program that has already lasted—treatment program that has already lasted 45 days, Tiger Woods, the golfer, tried to harness the chaos that predated and certainly followed that crash.  In a public apology, set against the lure of celebrity collapse and resuscitation, Woods uttered the words sorry or apology five times, and the word foolish twice, and also used one, entitled, once. 

But apologizing for feeling entitled doesn‘t necessarily explain what entitlement means and if, at worse, it‘s just another way of making an excuse.  Woods‘ 13.5 minute statement a kind of televised 12 step program, read before a small group of friends, family and associates at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse in Ponte Verde beach in Florida.  Woods‘ mother but not wife in attendance.  Nor Michael Jordan.  That was just a rumor floated by the worst sports radio show in the country.

With only a few journalists allowed to watch live, no questions, of course, the narrative was left, momentarily, anyway, to this man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIGER WOODS, GOLFER:  I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to.  I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me.  I felt I was entitled. 

Thanks to money and fame, I didn‘t have far—I didn‘t have to go far to find them. 

I was wrong.  I was foolish.  I don‘t get to play by different rules.  The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me.  I brought this shame on myself.  I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife‘s family, my friends, my foundation and kids all around the world who admired me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Woods also said that quote, “I do plan to return to golf one day.  I just don‘t know when that day will be.  I don‘t rule out it will this be year.”  Masters. 

Let‘s bring in associate editor and Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of “the Washington Post” and MSNBC political analyst Gene Robinson.  Good evening, Gene. 

GENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m fascinated by this phrase.  I‘ve heard it a thousand times from athletes and from some other people too.  “I felt I was entitled.”  There were phrases like worked hard around it, deserved to enjoy, money and fame.  Does that explain what he means by it? 

ROBINSON:  Well, what does entitled mean?  I guess, in its purest form, if you go back droit de seigneur, the Middle Ages concept that the lord of the manner was entitled to the sexual favors of the young maidens, a concept that obtained at least up through antebellum slavery in this country—but entitlement has become kind of a psycho-babble phrase, I think.  And in this case maybe his way of saying I really wanted to sleep with all those women. 

OLBERMANN:  He also blamed that sense on the fame and fortune.  Having

in other words, he was able to express his entitlement because he was famous, rather than the other way around.  It seems to me that one of those things is a prop for the other. 

ROBINSON:  Which for which?  I‘m not sure.  You know, facts on the ground, if you‘re Tiger Woods and if you are the richest athlete on the planet, and you‘re terribly famous, and you really want to go hooking up with cocktail waitresses and nightclub hostesses, you can do that.  And you can do that a lot.  And I don‘t know that you really need a fancy word for that.  It‘s—it is what it is. 

OLBERMANN:  But the sense of the entitlement, was it still there today, that the rules, in fact, don‘t apply to him, because he‘s the highest paid athlete in the world, and maybe it hasn‘t dawned on him yet that he does not get the money for hitting a ball with a stick.  He gets it for being a celebrity and selling products.  And there‘s a certain forfeiture of private life, especially when you really screw up.  You‘re going to have to answer questions.  You‘re going to have to answer a lot of questions.  This was a controlled message, ultimate controlled message moment today. 

ROBINSON:  Well, it was.  I mean, look, I don‘t—I am in no position to doubt his sincerity.  However, whatever treatment he‘s in hasn‘t dealt with that control freak problem he has.  He set this up.  Any apology, at least by my definition, has an element of encounter about it.  In a sense, we were like eavesdroppers.  You saw him there with his mother, with his friends.  There was encounter, perhaps, in that room, although a weird kind of encounter, because he was kind of looking over their heads at the camera.  But we‘re kind of on the outside looking in and distanced, I think, from this odd kind of spectacle. 

OLBERMANN:  Bad PR rehab.  It only takes one day to go to.  I would think they would have told him, do this.  Get a big arena with 4,000 seats in it.  Invite all the reporters you can think of.  You say, we‘re starting at 9:00.  There will be free food.  I will stay until 6:30 pm.  I‘ll answer all of your questions.  At 6:30, we are done forever on this topic.  That would work, wouldn‘t it? 

ROBINSON:  Only 4,000 seats? 

OLBERMANN:  All right, get him the LA Coliseum, fine. 

ROBINSON:  I would wait until the Orlando Magic have an away game, get the arena and just have at.  But your point is well taken.  I think this does end when there are some questions and answers.  People are still going to want to ask questions, whether it‘s right of them to want to do that or not.  They are going to want some answers. 

OLBERMANN:  But if you‘ve already had the event, you have the right to say, I answered all these questions, until 6:30, and there was lunch, too.  Maybe they will do it.

Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist at “The Washington Post,” thanks for coming in on a Friday night.  Have a good weekend. 

ROBINSON:  You too, Keith

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,486th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  Up next, Rachel Maddow with more on the craziness out of CPAC today.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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